On the Arizona State Sun Devils' chase for their first Final Four appearance in either men's or women's basketball, the Sun Devil women kicked off their reign as the 2-seed in the Sioux Falls Region with a bang.
Or more accurately, a swish.
ASU was paced by lot of swishes from Katie Hempen, who went 7-8 and 6-6 from beyond the three mark on the night, as Arizona State outmuscled the New Mexico State Aggies to a 74-52 win.
Hempen's career-tying night from deep started off early, as she knocked down the first two buckets of the game from downtown. Leading all scorers with 20 points, the jolt of energy her first two makes gave her team lifted the Sun Devils to first half domination.
"Yeah, that's what she does," said ASU coach Charlie Turner-Thorne. "She side-stepped, she shot-faked and she did everything she needed to do make sure she took good, clean looks. And when she's got good, clean looks, she's not always perfect from the field but she's pretty good."
On her perfect six for six night from three, Hempen deflected the credit to her teammates.
"Lili (Elisha Davis) was 6-0 today in assists/turnovers. Sophie Brunner did a great job kicking it out. My teammates did help me a lot to get open," the senior guard said. " We have all types of different threats on this team, so the fact that Neci or Bri can drive to the basket and draw two people and kick it back out, it makes my life a lot easier."
After Hempen's first two treys opened the lead to 6-0, ASU's size advantage over the Aggies helped her continue to get clean opportunities. Running with 6-foot-1 Brianna Freeman as its sole post threat, New Mexico State spent most of the first half trying to outpace ASU by playing four guards and utilizing the potent shooting ability of Sasha Weber and Moriah Mack to hang with the Sun Devils.
The Aggies even went to a full court press briefly in the first half, trying to force Arizona State into turning the ball over. But guards Davis and Arnecia Hawkins kept their cool, and what resulted was an overwhelming mismatch in the paint. Brunner had three of her four assists in the first half, Quinn Dornstauder was a constant facilitator of ball movement and the Sun Devils consistently found clean looks at the basket.
ASU entered the second quarter with a 22-13 lead, and went on to double their lead before halftime as Hempen continued to shoot fire from downtown. She drained three more threes to shoot ASU out to a 41-22 advantage. After a New Mexico State basket, ASU's Elisha Davis sent a jolt through Wells Fargo Arena with a beautiful charge to the hoop and bucket right before the first-half buzzer.
"I think you catch and shoot from a rhythm," Hempen said. "All my three-pointers tonight was in a rhythm, whether it was transition, inside-out. So it was a lot easier for me to just catch and shoot off of that."
ASU didn't just shoot lights out from three, they were able to disrupt the shooting rhythm of New Mexico State's best snipers. The Aggies went 4-20 as a team from deep, and WAC Player of the Year Sasha Weber was responsible for all four, going 4-9 on the night.
With a comfortable lead at halftime, the Sun Devils let the gas off a bit in the second half, with Turner-Thorne benching her entire starting five by the time the fourth quarter began. The second team played the Aggies just about even, outscoring them by one in the second half to take the game easily.
The Sun Devils now move on to Sunday's game, where they'll matchup against historic program and 7-seed Tennessee. The Lady Vols opened up their tourney run with a narrow 59-53 win over Green Bay. On how the Sun Devils need to adjust to playing a team they won't have a size advantage over, Turner-Thorne brushed it off as familiar territory.
"Well, they are like a Pac-12 team," Turner-Thorne said. "(It'll) be more normal. It was weird with (New Mexico State) being smaller and spread out and playing four guards. I think we'll be more at home."
The Sun Devils and Volunteers will play at 6:00 PM MST on Sunday. Game will be at Wells Fargo Arena and televised on the ESPN Networks.